Two human-rights ordinance bills were withdrawn at Thursday’s special City Council meeting, with a 13-6 vote on both.
One bill, 2016-002, introduced by Councilman Tommy Hazouri, would have expanded the city’s human-rights ordinance to include anti-discrimination protection on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations.
The other bill, 2016-001, introduced by Councilman Bill Gulliford, would have put those protections to a referendum vote on the August ballot.
The city’s existing human-rights ordinance protects people based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age and disability.
On Thursday, Hazouri asked Council to withdraw his bill, saying he needs more time to workshop it.
”My main reason is that I know that there is several issues, from the bathroom issue, which I consider a red herring, but other issues that I think we can sit down with the general counsel to try to answer the questions,” he says. “But to give the opportunity again to say, ‘What changes can we make that makes it where we still include the LGBT community as part of our human-rights ordinance?’”
In short, he says, he wants his colleagues to clearly understand the bill before they vote.
Bill Gulliford, sponsor of the competing HRO bill, said he did not want to withdraw his if Hazouri is just going to bring his back in a few months.
“So now we’re asked to stall action on this,” he says. “In the meantime, there will still be emails, letters, visits and time taken on this issue, and the division of the community continues. How much longer do we allow this to be the gift that keeps on giving?”
Just a couple weeks ago, the Council voted against withdrawing the bills, and the two members were flipped on their stance: Hazouri did not want to withdraw, and Gulliford did.
Many other members of the Council weighed in Thursday as well. Councilman Garrett Dennis shared Gulliford’s sentiment that the bills need to be voted on.
”The reason why is because we need to move forward,” he says. “Either we need to vote it up or we need to vote it down and move forward with other issues in Jacksonville. In the LGBT community, the discrimination, is that an issue? Absolutely. Pension, is that an issue? Absolutely. But if we continue to kick this can down the road, that we always hear about pension, it’s going to never get done.”
Council President Greg Anderson, on the other hand, says the HRO issue should be put on pause while the city implements Mayor Lenny Curry’s directive. Last month Curry updated the city’s hiring policy to prohibit LGBT discrimination by interpreting “sex” as sexual orientation and sexual identity. The change will also apply to city contractors. But at the same time, Curry said further legislation on the issue would not be "prudent."
If the Florida Legislature approves, Jacksonville residents will likely vote later this year whether to extend the city’s Better Jacksonville Plan sales tax to pay off pension debt. Some Council members including John Crescimbeni said they don’t want the ballot to be cluttered with other referendum items.
“I’m not in favor of putting anything else on the ballot if pension reform has a chance to get on there,” he says.
Councilman Matt Schellenberg withdrew a bill at last week’s Council meeting that would have put extending public official term limits on an upcoming ballot for the same reasons.
The human-rights ordinance bills will likely be reintroduced this year.